Parents and childcare providers can answer most questions that children ask about different people. If a child in McDonald’s and asks about someone who is wearing distinctive clothing – say a nun in a habit or a Muslim woman wearing a burka and hijab – the childcare provider should be able to explain to the child that sometimes people wear certain clothing as a reflection of their beliefs. The caregiver should further ensure that the child understands this is a choice to be respected and not ridiculed. Would you know how to answer a child who asked about Hanukkah (Chanukah)?

December is a month of many differing celebrations. School-age children may want to know why their friends aren’t celebrating the same way they do. Children should be made to understand that different families have different beliefs and traditions and these differences should be respected and not ridiculed. Here’s a suggestion on how to answer a child that asks about Hanukkah.


Chanukah is the Jewish “festival of lights”.

Chanukah an eight-day wintertime celebration with nightly lighting of the menorah, special prayers, and fried foods. This is a time when the Jewish family remembers how their ancestors reclaimed the Holy Temple from the Syrian-Greeks and then rededicated it to God. Chanukah means, “dedication” in Hebrew and celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple. When lighting the Holy Temple’s Menorah in Jerusalem after defeating the Greeks, a single cruse of olive oil (a one-day supply) lasted for eight days.


A menorah is a candelabra that holds nine flames.

The shamash (“attendant”) is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, only one flame is lit and on the second night, two flames are lit. By the eighth night, all eight lights are aflame. Before the menorah is lit, special blessings are recited; after the menorah is lit, traditional songs are sung. Menorahs are lit in each household and can be lit by every individual in a household. Once lit, Menorahs are placed in doorways or windows.


Food is an important part of the celebration.

The Chanukah celebration uses oil to fuel the flames and oil is often used to cook the holiday foods. Latkes are pancake-shaped potatoes that are cooked in oil and served with applesauce or sour cream. Jelly filled doughnuts or sufganya are popular as well. Other traditional fares may include Gefilte fish, challah (a braided bread), and matzo ball soup.

Children are important participants in the celebrations and often help prepare food.  They may also read books and listen to stories of their ancestors. Children may also play games – the most common being the dreidel game. A dreidel is a four-sided top that players spin.

It’s important to provide thoughtful and respectful answers as children learn about different cultures and how to show respect to different beliefs. Understanding and celebrating other cultures develops a deeper understanding of oneself, respect and tolerance for different views, and an opportunity to learn about history and heritage. Sharing information about different festivals and traditions builds a global mindset in children that helps advance their understanding of the world.


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